In 1918 Tome (Hidari) is born to working class parents in rural Japan. As she grows up she endures an inappropriate relationship with her stepfather Chuji (Kitamura). During the war she works in a factory, but is summoned home and offered to the family’s landlord. She is impregnated and has a child, Nobuko (Yoshimura). Returning to the city she ends up working as a prostitute, and finally takes over the brothel through opportunistic ingenuity.
Imamura’s survey of the bleak life of one Japanese woman begins with a close-up shot of a beetle toiling up a mound of dirt. Like that beetle, Tome battles and endures in a cyclical existence that is destined to repeat itself in her daughter. Imamura marks the passage of time with freeze frames, further accentuating a feeling of non-judgmental observation. Cinematographer Shinsaku Himeda’s canvas teems with busy life as Tome’s maturation parallels Japan’s evolution from a rural to an industrialized society. Oddly uplifting despite the subject matter, Imamura’s Tome is a paragon of survival and adaptation. Don’t swat this “Insect.”